Red Cross Admits 'Mistake' in Excluding Patriotic Songs

By Jason Pierce | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - The American Red Cross has apologized for barring songs containing the words "God" and "prayer" from its annual Volunteer Recognition dinner in Santa Ana, Calif., over the weekend.

"We certainly did not intend to hurt or offend anyone," the Red Cross said in a statement.

The controversy began Sunday, when a choral group from the Orange County High School of the Arts was scheduled to sing a medley, including "America the Beautiful," "Prayer for the Children" and "God Bless America."

According to Cheryl Bacon, the choir director, Red Cross officials told her that religious words in the songs might offend some people attending the dinner.

As a result, the choir didn't sing any of the songs.

In its statement, the Red Cross noted, "The fundamental principles that guide the American Red Cross -- humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntarism, unity and universality -- are more important today than ever before. The Red Cross said it has used those principles "time and time again to govern our work here in Orange County and around the world."

The American Red Cross said its actions at the Sunday dinner "clearly offended some in our community" and it admitted, "The judgment we made to exclude certain songs from the Sunday program was a mistake."

"We want to apologize to the community and to any people who were hurt or disappointed by our actions," the statement said.

The Catholic League, furious about the Red Cross "gag rules," launched a campaign Monday, petitioning 100 organizations nationwide to drop their support for the American Red Cross.

But on Tuesday, Catholic League President William Donohue accepted the organization's apology. "We are delighted that reasonableness prevailed at the American Red Cross and we have no interest in continuing our campaign to discredit the organization," Donohue said.

But, said Donohue, "While we accept the apology, we do not buy the line that this was a 'mistake.' No, this was a calculated decision designed to punish free speech."

Donohue called the Red Cross's statement of apology "intellectually dishonest," but the bottom line is they got the message, he said.